By Braden Turner
Emelyn Lih (ΦBK, Columbia University, 2012) has been named Phi Beta Kappa’s Walter J. Jensen Fellow for the 2017-2018 academic year in recognition of her exceptional promise as a scholar and teacher. Established in 2001 by Professor Walter J. Jensen (ΦΒΚ, UCLA, 1941), the fellowship aims to help educators and researchers improve education in standard French language, literature and culture and in the study of standard French in the United States. The award provides Lih with a stipend of $16,400 and round-trip travel to France for six months of continuous study.
Lih, a graduate student seeking her PhD at NYU, plans to use the award to develop her dissertation and to prepare tools and materials for use in the French language and literature courses she teaches. She explains that she also hopes to gain “literacy and concrete skills in the domain of literary digital humanities” while “consulting primary sources” relevant to her dissertation at renowned French libraries and academic institutions.
Her dissertation, “‘S’inscrire au drame du monde’: récits de soi à l’épreuve du siècle” (“Writing Oneself into the World: Narratives of Self Confront the Twentieth Century”), centers on the relationship between autobiography and history in the work of French writers Michel Leiris (1901-1990) and Claude Simon (1913-2005). Her work “explores the intersection of personal and political timelines in the work of Leiris and Simon… in order to show how writing about the self can also be a way to construct a meaningful relationship with a world in crisis,” Lih notes. While abroad in France, Lih plans to complete the second and third chapters of her dissertation. She ultimately hopes to bring the themes of Leiris and Simon “into the French classroom in ways that encourage students to reflect on their own life narratives and to experiment with creative writing in French through collaborative workshopping of both language and content,” she explains.
The French language has always occupied a prominent place in Lih’s life. At the age of three, her family moved from Boston to Montreal, where she attended schools with half French, half English instruction. At 16 she transferred to an exclusively French school where she cemented her bilingualism. Lih has always known she wanted to teach and study literature, but her francophone background and her admiration of France’s respect for cultural life informed her choice of study in French. She also credits the complexity of French prose for drawing her into the field.
As for her liberal arts education in general, Lih says it confirmed her “belief in the value and beauty of the study of language and literatures,” and made her “want to keep reading and learning for as long as possible.” She found Columbia’s opportunities for diverse courses of study a boon to her intellectual life and to her development as a scholar of French.
In her spare time, Lih enjoys cultural activities like visiting the opera or independent cinemas. She especially enjoys American film noir and French directors such as Rohmer, Bresson, Rivette, Resnais, and more; she also tries to stay up to date with contemporary foreign films. When she’s not broadening her cultural horizons, she likes to socialize with friends over food and drink.
Lih is thrilled to study in France again thanks to the Jensen Fellowship, and excited to make progress on her dissertation while developing tools to make her teaching more impactful and compelling.
"I am very grateful to Phi Beta Kappa for the award and the possibilities it offers: study in France is a crucial component of becoming a more effective teacher and scholar of French," Lih says.
"The Jensen Fellowship is especially valuable to young researchers and teachers in that it offers an opportunity to connect their learning to networks in France and to bring the fruits of those connections back to enrich their relationships with students and colleagues in the U.S.," Lih adds. "I am honored to be the recipient of this award, and I hope that in years to come I can encourage my own students to apply, in order to help maintain the tradition of excellence that Phi Beta Kappa does so much to keep alive."
Lih plans to use the summer reading for dissertation purposes and preparing administratively and intellectually for her stay in France next year.
Phi Beta Kappa congratulates Lih for her success and wishes her the best on her trip!
Braden Turner is a senior at The University of Tulsa majoring in English and minoring in history and economics. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2017, during his junior year. The University of Tulsa is home to the Beta of Oklahoma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
Photo Credit: Lourdes Severny (NY Headshots)